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DATTNER v. CONAGRA FOODS

March 31, 2003

YEHESKEL DATTNER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CONAGRA FOODS, INC.; CONAGRA INTERNATIONAL INC.; AND DONALD DA PARMA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Conway Casey, United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Yeheskel Dattner, brings this suit against ConAgra Foods, Inc., ConAgra International Inc. (collectively "ConAgra"), and Donald Da Parma for malicious prosecution, abuse of process, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and false imprisonment. His claim arises out of a series of actions and transactions by and between Plaintiff and Defendants, which culminated in Plaintiff's incarceration in a French prison and the instigation of a French criminal proceeding against him.

Following Plaintiff's complaint, Defendants moved to dismiss the action pursuant to (1) the doctrine of forum non conveniens; (2) New York statutes of limitations; and (3) Plaintiff's failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

Background

Plaintiff is an Israeli citizen and businessman who was living in London at the time of the events at issue. Defendant ConAgra Foods Inc. is incorporated in Delaware and maintains its corporate offices in Omaha, Nebraska. ConAgra International, Inc., is a subsidiary of ConAgra Foods Inc. It is also incorporated in Delaware and has no independent corporate offices. Defendant Donald Da Parma is an attorney who was working for ConAgra at the time of the events in question.

In 1992, ConAgra contracted with Plaintiff to serve as a consultant in developing a Pistachio nuts business in Europe and other parts of the world (excluding the United States). Plaintiff was to work primarily with ConAgra Netherlands, a subsidiary of ConAgra International. In consultation with Mr. Van Der Maijden, an executive of ConAgra's Netherlands office, Plaintiff developed a business plan for ConAgra's pistachio business in Europe and other parts of the world. Plaintiff's efforts were particularly successful in France, where he developed a strong client base for the sale of ConAgra's pistachio nuts with the assistance of a Mr. Souffir.

In December 1993, Plaintiff was instructed by the ConAgra Netherlands office to discontinue his involvement with the French business and start looking for business opportunities in other parts of the world. Plaintiff expressed his preference to continue working with the French venture, arguing that his involvement was critical to ConAgra's continued success in the French market. Despite his regrets, Plaintiff began working on projects to merchandise pistachio nuts in other areas of the world.

At around the time he was removed from the French pistachio venture, Plaintiff had developed suspicions that Mr. Van Der Maijden and other executives in the Netherlands office were jealous of his success in France and planned to usurp Plaintiff's efforts in France for their own benefit. In March 1994, Plaintiff wrote to ConAgra executives in the Omaha, Nebraska office, informing them of his suspicions. A few days later, Plaintiff received a letter informing him that ConAgra was terminating his consulting contract. Around April 1994, ConAgra also fired several executive staff of the Netherlands office. At about that time, ConAgra alleged that invoices for goods delivered to Plaintiff's French clients remained unpaid.

Alleging that his termination was a breach of his consulting contract with ConAgra, Plaintiff initiated civil proceedings in the Netherlands. In July 1994, ConAgra Netherlands commenced civil proceedings in France against the French companies to recover money due under the invoices. The French companies denied having received the goods charged in the invoices, although one company was found liable to ConAgra for value of the goods.

Plaintiff allegedly contacted police to report his suspicions about Mr. Souffir, who had assisted Plaintiff in securing accounts with the French companies. In November 1994, Plaintiff contacted Defendant Donald Da Parma in New York to inform him of Plaintiff's meeting with the French police. Da Parma left New York and flew to Paris to meet with Plaintiff. According to the Complaint, Da Parma acknowledged that Plaintiff had done nothing wrong and asked him to cooperate with the police.

On December 7, 1994, Plaintiff was arrested in France on allegations of fraud. Plaintiff was kept in jail for approximately six months and was released on bail on June 2, 1995. ConAgra was involved in the prosecutor's criminal investigation of Plaintiff; however, the actual extent of its involvement is unclear. ConAgra also filed a civil complaint against Plaintiff to recover damages for the losses incurred by its Netherlands office.

On February 2, 2000, ConAgra's civil action was dismissed and Plaintiff was acquitted by the Paris Criminal Court. Thereafter, ConAgra and the French prosecution appealed the court's judgment, and the Paris Court of Appeal tried the case de novo. On December 15, 2000, Plaintiff was acquitted of all charges by the French appellate court.

Plaintiff filed this action against Defendants on December 10, 2001 on the grounds of malicious prosecution, abuse of process, false imprisonment and intentional infliction of emotional distress. On March 13, 2002, Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint based on forum non ...


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